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“Cannabis is what helps me cope”

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Susanne was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD a year and a half ago

Cannabis Health speaks to cannabis and CBD entrepreneur, Susanne (AKA SusieHemp), about her thirty-year relationship with the plant and why she is now giving small doses of CBD to her non-verbal autistic son.

Susanne, a mother-of-three from Cheshire, has used cannabis since the age of 20.

Due to a number of traumas in her life, including the tragic passing of her partner, the 50-year-old says she has depended “heavily” on both alcohol and cannabis at points in her life.

She was able to stop drinking several years ago and hasn’t touched alcohol since. She did, however, continue to consume cannabis. She didn’t know why, she says, but it was “working” for her.

Eighteen months ago, Susanne was diagnosed with autism and ADHD and it suddenly made sense to her why she was benefiting from cannabis.

Although scientists are still in the early stages of research, anecdotal evidence and early studies suggest that cannabinoids such as CBD could help alleviate symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Research into cannabis and ADHD is equally patchy, however, many people with the condition report that cannabis helps manage symptoms such as agitation, irritability and lack of restraint.

A research paper from 2016, for example, analysed just under three hundred online forum threads. I found that 25 per cent of posts were from people reporting the therapeutic effects of cannabis. Only 8 percent of posts reported negative effects.

“I self-medicate,” Susanne says over Zoom.

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke [cigarettes], I have an addictive personality, I am autistic and cannabis is what has helped me cope.”

She continues: “Cannabis lifts my mood instantly. I self-sabotage and that’s all part of autism. I look in the mirror and I would hate myself because of the traumas that I’ve been through. But after taking cannabis I can focus, it just changes how I think from negative to the other way.”

Having researched the potential benefits of CBD for ADHD and autism, Susanne wondered if it could help her son, Lucas.

Lucas, who is 12-years-old, lives with non-verbal autism. It is clear from talking to Susanne how much she loves her son, however as a single mum caring for a child with such a severe form of the condition, it has taken a toll on her wellbeing.

“I can’t speak to anyone when he’s around. I can’t have relationships with people, I’ve lost a lot of my social life because he consumes all of my time,” she says.

“He terrorises the house, he destroys everything to the point where I’m in tears, but he’s my son.”

During the Covid-19 crisis, Susanne describes being traumatised as the lack of respite from her care duties caused her mental health to plummet.

“My mental health has declined a lot because I’m in a very difficult situation, she says.

“A lot of people don’t have to cope with what I’ve had to deal with during Covid.”

Lucas has been prescribed ADHD medication on several occasions, but Susanne describes these periods as being “dreadful” for her son.

“They suppressed his appetite so much that I actually saw him wasting away in front of my eyes,” she says.

“I got to the point where I just couldn’t deal with it.

“It wasn’t doing him any good. I thought, ‘why am I giving him these tablets?’ I had to make the decision to stop it.”

She made the decision to bring Lucas off of his ADHD medication two months ago.

Having experienced for herself the benefits of cannabis for addressing mental health issues, autism and ADHD, Susanne decided to try Lucas on CBD.

He now takes just one drop of CBD oil a day in the form of a patch which he wears in bed.

Susanne says she saw a change in Lucas instantly after he started taking CBD.

“I had to look for alternatives to help us as a family, nobody else can,” she continues.

“I noticed a huge difference in his behaviour. I see it visually, he’s more relaxed and calm.

“With the patches, I have noticed that he wakes up in the morning and sits in bed for a while. Normally he would be out banging the doors, but now he’s lying in his bed happy.”

Things also changed for Lucas at school. Regular reports from his teachers show periods of time where he was disengaged and eating very little or nothing at all. This coincided with the periods that he was taking ADHD medications.

After he started taking CBD, his behaviour at school dramatically improved. She recalls receiving a recent report praising her son for being “lively as ever, engaged and eating us through the house.”

In her professional life, Susanne built a successful career in social care, working with children with attachment disorder, special needs and autism.

However, due to the lack of support from social services, Susanne was forced to leave her job five years ago to care for her son.

“I couldn’t put Lucas into [care] during the holidays, so I ended up having to come out of work and as a result, I struggled financially,” she adds.

Living on a carer’s allowance of £67 pounds per week, Susanne was unable to afford her car and struggled to keep up with mortgage payments.

“It was a nightmare,” she says.

“I was a lone carer trying to pay a mortgage.”

She also had to face the stigma of being a cannabis user on a day-to-day basis. On one occasion a neighbour reported Susanne to social services, leading to police and social workers “invading” her home and personal life.

“People are allowed to take antidepressants and that’s okay, but if somebody wants to take cannabis, that’s wrong.

Susanne and Lucas, 12.

“I was put in a position where I was discriminated against for using cannabis. It led me to think, ‘why am I being pushed into a corner like this? I’m doing nothing wrong here’,” she says.

In an effort to find other people like her, Susanne turned to social media where she posted about her experiences as a mum of a neurodiverse child and her passion for cannabis and its medicinal benefits.

She continues: “I just couldn’t find other people like me. People would look at me and judge me and think I’m a stoner.

“But I held down a job for 37/40 hours a week, I brought up three children on my own, I have my own home.

“Why are people judging me? Because I choose to smoke a plant?”

Having built a dedicated following on social media over the past three years, Susanne is now setting up an online platform to promote the medical benefits of cannabis.

The website, called Susie’sHemp, will publish interviews with cannabis advocates and promote both her own and other cannabis brands.

Lucas will also be the subject of a blog about autism, neurodiversity and the potential benefits of CBD for autism.

“I want it to be a diversity of interests for lots of different people, pulling together those that I’ve worked with for the last three years and have helped me.

“A lot of people don’t know about the different cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. I have to advocate for it and the website will be a platform for educating people,” she adds.

“It’s about getting the message out there to society and ultimately, the nub of it is education.”

Case Studies

“CBD allows me to function” – biker ‘died’ three times after freak road accident

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Gary Brennan pictured with wife Shirley
Gary Brennan and wife, Shirley set up a trauma support service after the accident

After a serious motorbike accident, Gary Brennan almost lost his life, undergoing 54 operations to fix his broken body. Gary speaks to Cannabis Health about the “life-changing” accident and how CBD helps to manage the pain 11 years on.

On February 28th 2010, Gary Brennan collided with a car while riding his motorbike.

He broke both shoulder blades, tore his liver, crushed his kidney, shattered his pelvis fractured his spine and suffered from bleeding on the brain and a collapsed lung.

These are just some of the life-threatening injuries that he sustained in the accident.

So severe were his injuries that he was declared dead at the scene of the incident. Paramedics were able to resuscitate him before he was helicoptered to Leeds General Infirmary where he underwent emergency surgery.

During the operation, his heart stopped twice and his family were told that he may have just a few hours to live. He was put into an induced coma and relied on a life support machine to breathe.

Miraculously, Gary survived.

His condition stabilised enough to come out of the coma, but since then he has undergone a total of 54 operations.

When Gary’s condition stabilised enough to come out of the coma he was in excruciating pain. Having battled injuries that doctors deemed barely survivable, the 63-year-old was administered a plethora of drugs to keep the pain under control and has since undergone a total of 54 operations.

“The accident was life-changing to say the least,” Gary told Cannabis Health.

Gary Brennan underwent more than 50 operations

“I got through the operations and everything else, and then I got to the stage where I was lying in bed, zoomed out my head every day of my life with the drugs that I was taking.”

The cocktail of medications including morphine and ketamine kept the pain at bay but according to the father-of-four, it was “destroying” his brain.

Bed-bound, in pain and suffering from a relentless medication plan, Gary slipped into a period of depression and at one point considered suicide.

“I don’t say this lightly,” he said. “It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it; that I actually even considered it having been a fit, active father-of-four and grandfather-of-six.

“But that was what the drugs were doing to me.”

Gary recalls waking up in the morning “groggy as hell” and in agonising pain until he took his medication.

“All it would do was numb my mind so that I didn’t feel the pain,” he added.

Knowing he had to find an alternative, he looked into CBD.

Although he was sceptical at first and questioned whether the benefits were merely a placebo effect, Gary found that CBD was helping reduce the pain while still allowing him to keep a “clear” head.

“Now I’ve got clarity, I’ve got a clear head, I can get out of bed in the morning. I still get the twinges but it’s not as severe pain,” he continued.

“The pain is always going to be there, but it’s handled in a different way. It doesn’t numb your brain, but the actual place that’s aching. It gives me relief and allows me to function.

“It changed my outlook on pharmaceutical drugs.”

Gary has now come off all prescription drugs apart from one, which he takes “now and then” to lower his blood pressure. Instead, he takes four capsules of CBD each day, equating to 720 milligrams.

Eleven years on from the crash, he has founded his own CBD brand, Brain Body Balance, and is working with US company, Ananda Scientific, to bring its patented Liquid Structure CBD formulation to the UK.

Ananda claims that the nano-sized technology makes its CBD formulation up to 20 times more bioavailable in the first 30 minutes than standard CBD. This is down to its “non-destructive” shell which contains the CBD and is able to pass through the gut and liver without being broken down. The shell only disintegrates when it reaches the small intestine, allowing for a greater amount of CBD to enter the bloodstream.

Ananda’s pharmaceutical-grade CBD is currently undergoing clinical trials to test its efficacy for treating pain, diabetes and mental health conditions including PTSD and anxiety.

Meanwhile, the nutraceutical arm of the company has launched over-the-counter products in the UK and the US through brands like Brain Body Balance.

Gary with one of his six grandchildren.

For Gary, producing a product with high bioavailability was a priority.

“I knew the product itself worked, but actually getting it into the bloodstream where it does its job is the hardest thing to do,” Gary said.

“You have to use stronger and stronger doses in order to get it into your bloodstream.”

Alongside his CBD venture, Gary set up the charity, Day One Major Trauma Support to limit the impact of trauma on patients and families in hospitals across Leeds and the wider Yorkshire area.

“When I was lying in hospital, the doctors would come around once a day and say, ‘how are you feeling, Gary?’, ‘can you feel your toes?’. Then they would say, ‘see you tomorrow’ and off they go,” he said.

“The nurse comes around, gives you your pills, then your family come in, pat you on the head and say it’ll be okay. Basically, that’s all you get.”

Aware of the lack of support, Gary set out to create a service that helped those like him who had suffered from major trauma. The charity provides financial assistance, legal advice and practical and emotional support.

Off the back of its success at Leeds General Infirmary, the charity will now be rolling out its services in all 27 major trauma centres in the UK.

Gary added: “Any help is there first-hand, no matter what, so nobody’s left in the lurch.”

 

 

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Case Studies

Eppie Louise: “I want to help others see that cannabis is a positive medicine”

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Eppie is ready to share the positive role that cannabis has played in her life

After years of battling a number of physical and mental health issues, Eppie Louise opens up about the medicinal role cannabis has played in her life  – and why she’s ready to help others see its positives. 

“On the outside, I look like a young, healthy, fit, normal girl but I’m actually not,” says Eppie, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes since around the age of seven.

“I’m classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, I have an autoimmune disease and all these other things wrong with me, but I’m not about to hide anything else about myself – I deal with these things through insulin and cannabis.”

Now 26, Eppie is done with the stigma and shame that comes with consuming cannabis. 

As a teenager – caring for her mum from the age of 15 after she lost the use of one side of her body following a stroke – Eppie began using cannabis, what she describes as “socially”.

It was only later as her mental health took a turn for the worse and she began to develop complications related to her diabetes that she realised it was having a therapeutic effect.

“I struggled with my mental health for years and neglected myself and my diabetes,” she admits.

“I would eat but then wouldn’t do my insulin afterwards because I couldn’t be bothered or I was fed up of doing it, or I didn’t want to eat because it was uncomfortable.

“I felt like I’ve done this for most of my life, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

She suffered damage to her kidneys and was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a disorder in which the stomach takes too long to empty and can cause nausea, vomiting and painful cramping among other symptoms. 

Eppie now has a continuous glucose monitor fitted, which automatically measures the glucose levels in her blood which can track through an app on her phone. 

“It’s like an artificial pancreas,” she says.

“My blood sugar still has highs and lows, but it’s much more easily monitored and that stress is massively reduced, as well as the anxiety of going out for food with friends and having to run to the bathroom to check my bloods.”

Cannabis also helps her cope with anxiety and depression, as well as helping her sleep and easing the symptoms of her stomach condition.

“As I’ve got older, I’ve realised I use cannabis medicinally for various things and I’ve started to see more and more positives from it,” explains Eppie.

“With diabetes you have to eat to keep your blood sugars at a safe range and cannabis increases my appetite, as well as being a good pain medicine for the stomach symptoms.”

She continues: “My depression and anxiety throw everything all over the place, so cannabis helps me relax and put me to sleep at night, which in turns helps my diabetes. It’s a good balancer for me and makes my life a lot easier.”

For the last four years, Eppie has been a support worker in a care home for patients living with brain injuries and mental health issues, as well as caring for her mum at home – who also has Type 1 diabetes. 

“It does get difficult looking after mum, some days you get tired and you just snap,” she says.

“Being able to go upstairs to my bedroom and medicate at home means I can come back down feeling more relaxed and recharged – back to my normal self – to help mum again.”

However, Eppie doesn’t have a prescription for cannabis and so is forced to rely on getting her supply from the street, meaning she lives with the uncertainty of fluctuating prices and an inconsistent product.

“I don’t really think it affects me until I run out and my dealer hasn’t got any and then my anxiety will go through the roof, worrying about how I’m going to eat and sleep,” she says.

“Or they’ll put the prices up and suddenly I’ll be spending £30 a day on cannabis. Some weeks I’ll find that I’ve spent £150 on cannabis which is a lot of money.”

Eppie continues: “Luckily I live with mum and I have a regular income so I can afford it at the moment, but if I was to have other responsibilities like my own home, or kids it would definitely be more of a struggle for me to get a supply.

“Even when I was on benefits I couldn’t afford to buy it on the street.”

Eppie recently joined the patient working group of advocacy group PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) and through connecting with other cannabis patients is learning more about her options for accessing a legal prescription. 

“I need to educate myself more first but it definitely is something I want, I think once you have a prescription for something people have less ammunition towards it,” she says.

“Cannabis has got a very negative stereotype to it and it shouldn’t be that way when it has such positive effects for people.”

Eppie is now taking her own steps to help break down the stereotypes

Through her Instagram page where she documents her life living with Type 1 diabetes and helps others with the condition, she has begun promoting the work of PLEA and speaking out about medical cannabis.

“Part of the reason I set up the Instagram account was to help other people find some comfort and I think people are starting to understand the idea that I use cannabis to help my diabetes to the point where they can come to me and ask me about it,” she says.

“It’s a very cloudy subject and obviously being part of PLEA that’s something that I want to help change people’s views and help others see that cannabis is a positive medicine.”

The patients working group has been for Eppie what she is to her Instagram followers, a source of knowledge and support in what can seem like a daunting space.

“It’s usually people coming to me and asking for help, so it’s nice to be on the other end of it,” she says.

“It’s so positive to see people of all different ages, shapes, sizes – people older than me with different lifestyles and children – who are all talking about cannabis. The way that it is so much the norm for them is really refreshing.

She adds: “It’s actually helped me become more accepting of my own cannabis use –  it’s helped me see the positives.”

Follow Eppie on Instagram @type1types 

Find out more about the PLEA patient working group here & visit pleacommunity.org.uk for further resources

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Case Studies

“I’ve been given so many labels, but CBD made me feel normal again”

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Matthew Cobb and his family

Founder of the cannabidiol brand, Euphoria CBD, talks to Cannabis Health about how CBD has helped him turn his life around and move on from the trauma of his childhood.

23-year-old Matthew Cobb says he has seen “way too much” for someone his age.

At the age of 12, Matthew was taken into the care system, suffering from serious mental health issues stemming from traumatic events in his early youth.

Throughout the course of his childhood, he was diagnosed with PTSD, autism spectrum disorder, multiple personality disorder and bipolar and was given medication in an effort to treat his mental health.

“I took medication from a very young age,” Matthew says over the phone.

“I suppose a lot of it at the time was my mum trying to find a reason as to why my behaviour was the way it was.”

His doctors prescribed him medications such as Ritalin, Concerta XL, sertraline and olanzapine to cope but none of them worked for him and the side effects were, at times, crippling.

“Prescribed medication was very prominent in my childhood. They didn’t really do anything for me but I was forced to take them every day,” he says.

“There was not one [medication] that I could take and feel myself. Some of them made me angry, some of them absolutely tore me apart and made me borderline suicidal.”

Eventually, the side effects became too much, and Matthew decided to stop taking prescription medication at 15-years-old.

Having first encountered cannabis at the age of 13, he began to solely rely on “medicating” through the drug. In his late teenage years, Matthew says he would often consume upwards of £70 worth of cannabis in one day.

“It was the only thing that gave me some sense of normality at the time. The fact that ‘stoned’ was the closest to normality that I could get at 17-years-old was a problem,” he says.

At the age of 18, Matthew stumbled across CBD for the first time in a local convenience store where he saw a pack of CBD flower for sale.

“I saw this thing that ultimately looked like cannabis. I’d never heard of CBD before,” he recalls.

He bought the 0.5 g pack and went to the local park to roll a ‘CBD joint’ and was astounded by the effects.

“It was just a feeling of constant relaxation. I didn’t feel paranoid. I didn’t feel like anyone was judging me,” he says.

Later, Matthew began to experience more profound benefits as his consumption of CBD began to positively impact his mental health.

“I started to notice that my depression was easing off and I was starting to feel better in myself,” he continues.

“It was completely different to smoking cannabis. I wasn’t getting high anymore, but I was sleeping again and I was eating properly. My head didn’t feel so up in the air, I didn’t feel manic.”

For Matthew, smoking cannabis was never about getting high. He just wanted to feel “normal”, and cannabis was the only substance he could find that got him close to that feeling.

“I had a lot of issues that I didn’t understand, a lot of issues that didn’t make sense,” he says.

“I was heading in a massive downward spiral and [cannabis] was the only thing that took the edge off.

“It was about making me feel some sense of normality. I got that with CBD, so it almost made cannabis null and void.”

With a renewed clarity of mind, Matthew realised that he had to make a change in his life.

“In two years, you’re going to be in prison or you’re going to be dead,” he thought.

Matthew says he hasn’t picked up a cannabis joint since the first time he tried CBD and from that moment, he was himself for the first time in his life. He no longer recognises in himself the mental health issues that he was diagnosed with as a child.

“My view is I don’t have any mental health issues,” he says.

“I was given many different labels, but they would change week to week; ADHD, bipolar disorder, personality disorder this, personality disorder that, depression.

“I had had a label for everything, but my life now is pretty normal.

“CBD has taken those labels away. It has given me something that no medication could; it’s given me – me.”

Having experienced first-hand the benefits of CBD, Matthew launched his own brand, Euphoria CBD, in July 2020.

It is set to launch a range of new products throughout 2021, including e-liquids, soap bars, bath bombs, moisturiser creams.

Frustrated with the lofty costs of CBD products, he set out to make high-quality cannabidiol affordable. Recalling a time in his life where he was struggling to make ends meet and pay for the supplement that had such a huge impact on his life, Matthew aims to make CBD accessible to everyone, regardless of their income.

“CBD is something that comes with benefits for so many different people, but the problem is that people don’t realise how much poverty there actually is in this country,” he adds.

“People can’t afford this kind of product, it’s just not possible. My goal is to provide an affordable product that genuinely helps people.”

 

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